Smart Water: Saving Margins, Water and Infrastructure

Smart grid for water presents important opportunities for water utilities to increase and find revenue, improve financial performance and extend the in-service life of infrastructure components

Abstract

Supply-side management emphasizes generating new water

Graham Symmonds, Global Water FATHOM Senior Vice President

Graham Symmonds, Global Water FATHOM Senior Vice President

through increased diversions, massive engineering works or
water creation schemes such as desalination. However, finding the capital to execute these projects is increasingly difficult for municipalities and consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about price increases associated with these projects. Smart Grid technologies can offer real advantages in this regard: providing real-time consumption information to consumers, utilities can realize significant water savings, which easily translate into the deferral of construction and water acquisition costs while utility financial performance can be significantly enhanced through data.

Trevor Hill, Global Water Resources President & CEO

Trevor Hill, Global Water FATHOM CEO

INTRODUCTION

The current financial condition of many utilities—shrinking population bases, dwindling budgets, infrastructure replacement requirements—mean that utilities must seek efficiencies well beyond the norm in order to achieve both continuity of revenue, and to fund future needs. While rates are increasing with time [1], and this can be a means to fund budget and infrastructure shortfalls, these increases come with significant political costs. There is very little appetite for massive rate hikes, however imperative and appropriate they may be. The utility therefore, must seek to fill this financial shortfall through efficiencies.

One efficiency yet to be fully exploited by utilities is monetizing the entire utility water cycle. Ensuring that all water produced, treated, pumped, and distributed is actually delivered and actually billed is vitally important, environmentally and fiscally. That may sound like a trivial expectation, and on first blush it is. The reality is much murkier. The difference between the volume of water sent into the distribution system and the amount of water actually billed (non-revenue water, NRW), is a significant drain on utility revenue.

An equally important component of NRW is not leaking water, but leaking data. The fundamental business tools used to ensure the utility’s financial health are decoupled from the physical infrastructure. The result is that many utilities are not only leaking physical water, but are also leaking the data associated with the production, treatment, distribution, and selling of that water. And that means utilities are leaking dollars.

All of this adds up to infrastructure inefficiencies. Lost water and data means more demand, more pressure, straining our systems. Solving the demand and data issues can offer significant infrastructure benefits for the future.

LEAKING DATA

Finding and stopping physical leaks is a critical aspect of utility management. The typical response to NRW is to deploy teams of distribution system technicians to track down, find, and repair the leaks. This may require the use of specialized equipment, or simply the specialized senses of the technicians. While we can easily comprehend the physical nature of water leaking from a pipeline, physical water leaks are only one of a myriad of potential causes of NRW. In fact in many cases our utilities are leaking data – missing customers, meter calibration errors, misalignment of physical and billing systems with respect to meter size, multipliers etc. In these cases, the actions of the teams of technicians will be futile.

To correct this problem, utilities must move to a smart-grid-for-water installation, that is, advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) with substantially increased data granularity and direct integration with customer information systems under a geo-temporal data model (combining geo-referenced physical installation information with highly granular time of use data.) Such a system will plug our leaking data.